Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Galatians’

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Read Full Post »

“…If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Trusting in Christ”

 

We are all under sin; not one of us can save himself from everlasting death.  Only by faith in Christ are we saved.

 

We cannot earn our salvation.  We cannot become righteous before God by following the Law of Moses.  Following the Ten Commandments does not make us righteous before God.  Following the Six Duties of Churchmen does not make us righteous before God.  The Law and all such plans teach us how far short we fall from where we ought to be.

This helps us open up ourselves to God.  The spiritual truth that we can do nothing to earn our salvation is difficult to hear.  People listening to Christ preach found it difficult to hear; we sitting here at St. Luke Church find it difficult to hear.

God promised Abraham in Genesis xii.2-3:  “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Abraham showed that he believed God by his willingness to obey God and sacrifice his son, Isaac.  But after Abraham, the people knew the promise, but knowing the promise of greatness to come did nothing to inspire them to be good.  Perhaps it made righteousness less desirable to pursue, for virtue takes effort, and Abraham’s descendants assuredly knew that their promise was to come true.

So God gave Moses the Law to give to Israel.  Israel could never completely fulfill the Law of Moses, but they had it to guide them as they became a nation out in the wilderness, through the time of the judges, and of the kings, and of the prophets.  They were taught righteousness.

 

St. Paul says as much in Galatians iii.24:  “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”  The Law was powerless to lead Israel into righteousness.  Ultimately, the Law showed us how we each were condemned as being not good enough.

John Wesley speaks to this:

Will it follow from hence that the law is against, opposite to, the promises of God? By no means. They are well consistent. But yet the law cannot give life, as the promise doth. If there had been a law which could have given life – Which could have entitled a sinner to life, God would have spared his own Son, and righteousness, or justification, with all the blessings consequent upon it, would have been by that law.

Similarly, Isaac Williams says:

The Law was to convince them of sin, and bring them to Christ: thus John the Baptist preached repentance; for if they had believed Moses they would have believed in Christ. The Law was but the means, not the end; but the Jews were now making it the end; whereas the end of the Law is Christ, in Whom is the promise, and the blessing, and the covenant, and righteousness, and life; not for a time only, but for ever. It was to this the prophets of old looked,’ to this the saints of the elder covenant aspired, to behold Christ, the end of the Law, in Whom dwells the fulness of all good, the love of God flowing down from Heaven, and embracing all men; as the fragrant oil that came down on the head of Aaron, and went to the skirts of his clothing.

We are not capable in our fallen, mortal, and limited state to fulfill the Law and earn for ourselves righteousness.  The mightiest hero, the holiest saint, the wisest philosopher can no more earn his own righteousness before God than the weakest of us.  We all are in the same boat when it comes to deserving our own salvation.

 

We do not do the work of salvation – Christ does.  In Acts xxvi.14, St. Paul tells his personal story of the futility of seeking to earn salvation through righteous living instead of Christ:  “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

Indeed, when St. Paul addressed divisions in the Church, he said in 1 Corinthians iii.6:  “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”  Christ, being God, is utterly trustworthy.  We can completely depend upon Him.  We do not live under the law, struggling and kicking.  Each of us has our own work as members of Christ’s Body the Church, but we fool ourselves if we consider that our work is somehow necessary to the fruition of God’s work in us.  Unless the Lord returns first, we shall each of us die.  Not a single one of us is indispensable.  Only Christ is indispensable, and we are made members of Him, and consequently into Christ’s indispensable character through faith and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

After all, we read in Proverbs iii.5:  “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  Depending upon Christ, we are not to depend upon ourselves.  We are not to depend on the works of our hands.

But the works we create are not entirely worthless.  We are to offer up to God the works of our hands.  One of my spiritual heroes, the Cure d’Ars, St. Jean Marie Baptist Vianney, said, “All that we do without offering it to God is wasted.”  Our work is important as a faithful response to Christ’s life-saving work of death and Resurrection.  Thus we ought to not rely upon ourselves but place all our weight upon Christ.

And we are in no hurry.  That anxious desire to hurry is a sign of brokenness, of corruption of our holy selves.  Christ enjoys no anxiety.  He neither races to His Passion in Jerusalem nor does He seek to avoid it.

Even our knowledge of God is imperfect.  1 Corinthians xiii.12:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  We see imperfectly today but after Christ returns we shall see Him and know Him face to face.  Until then, we only have faith – we trust that He is here saving us.

Christ shows us all love.  Christ exemplifies sacrificial loving-kindness because He sacrificed Himself for us because He loved us when we were unworthy of His love.  The Law teaches us that we are sinners who need Christ.  It is thus for us not to try to earn our salvation through the Law but to believe and trust in Christ.  When we lean upon Christ for support, He supports us with His love, and we are saved through God Incarnate and not the written Law.

We are called to believe in Christ, to follow Him, and to love like He loves.  We must simply and meekly love Christ and our neighbor.  We trust in Him and follow Him, conforming our lives to His holy life.  We need not concern ourselves with earning our reward but following Him in His way.

This journey through life is a journey following Christ, not our own conceits.  We must simply and earnestly rely upon Christ.  It is in this way that we are free from both the Law and from anxiety.  We don’t have to earn or deserve anything.  All the doing happened before you and I showed up.  Calvary happened almost twenty centuries ago.  Our job is to open ourselves up and follow the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yet this does not mean that we are to be lazy and pay attention to frivolous things.  This does mean that we live lives of assurance.  We do not need to worry about our salvation, for Christ has already won that for us.  We do not need to worry about our earthly legacy, for it will be swept away by the ravages of time and of little consequence in the afterlife.  We do not need to worry about our loved ones, for the Great Physician and Lover of our Souls is looking after them far better than we ever could.

This does not mean that we give up.  This means that we give in.  We give in to Christ.  We give in to relying upon Christ.  We give in to following Christ.  We give in to loving God and others like Christ first loved us.

And He even explains why.  Loving-kindness.  We read in St. John iii.16-17:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

 

“…If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Read Full Post »

“BE ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

The disciples who followed Christ literally followed where He went and did what He did.  They learned by doing.  In that sense, I was a disciple of my father in my early years.  I remember the first time I sat in front of my father on stage at our pre-school.  I crossed my legs the same way he did because, although I was scared in front of all those people, it was safe and right to imitate my daddy.  Disciples follow and imitate.  In this way, disciples are like children.  This is how St. Paul can open up this reading of Ephesians with “BE ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;” for followers and children are so very similar.

 

We are to imitate Christ.  One of the most famous and popular books of Christian devotion for all time, treasured by the likes of Ignatius of Loyola, John Wesley, and Robert E. Lee, is Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ.  I strongly recommend each of you to consider reading it.

We are to imitate Christ’s loving-kindness.  We must walk in love.  Loving-kindness is the essential ingredient in following Christ – loving in our hearts, loving in our minds, loving in our bodies.  All that we do must be in love.  If we truly act in love, then we are imitating Christ.

The Prayer of St. Francis, written in the early years of the XX Century and not by him, faithfully sums up his teaching and offers us a most excellent understanding of living in love and imitating Christ.  A lovely needlework of this prayer is hung above our coffee pots next to the kitchen door in the parish hall.  I invite you all to recall Christ’s love of you and your imitation of Christ when you pass by this embroidered prayer.  This is the prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Throughout the history of Holy Church, imitating Christ and following the way of love has had several components.  One part has been the soul’s interior regard of love – recollection of love, intercessory prayer, and acts of devotion.  Another part has involved the soul deeply in participation in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  A third part has emphasized outward and physical performances of love.

 

Through our Incarnate Son of God, we are to imitate God.  We are created in his image, and although we, his handiwork, have been defaced by sin, the original stamp of God on us remains.  Our human nature has fallen into sin, but first God created it in his image.

Our part of Christ’s redemption of us is imitating God.  We are to imitate God, and the way we do that is through the love and sacrifice of Christ.  Christ sacrificed His high station in Heaven and His life upon the Cross for us to God the Father.  This is love.  Love and sacrifice go hand in hand.  Love without sacrifice is hollow and empty.  Sacrifice without love is meaningless and despairing.  Sacrifice in love redeems the world.  If you and I imitate Christ and sacrifice for one another in loving-kindness, you and I can move mountains.

We complain about budget deficits, empty pews, and lack of activities.  We complain about crooked politicians, policies working against God’s laws, and wicked behavior in high places.  We complain about broken families, alienated loved ones, and lost friends.  But we have an answer for all these:  Christ.

But when we say the answer is Christ, in our despair we cry out like atheists.  But what about right now?  What about those hurting people?  What about my hurts?  Yes, Christ cleansed us from our sin in Holy Baptism.  Yes, Christ has won the victory and will return one day in power and great glory.  But what about now?  What about my sick spouse?  What about my dead child?  What about my scorned neighbor?  Oh Lord, what about my lost job?

And by the answer, “Christ”, we mean the love and sacrifice of Christ lived out in our lives.  Christians are members of Christ’s Body, the Church.  We imitate God in Christ our Lord.  We love one another not out of indifference, not until it becomes uncomfortable, but we love one another, as known persons with faces, unto sacrifice.

Like Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathitein in the second chapter of Job, we sit in the ashes with our grieving friend seven days and seven nights without saying a word.  And unlike Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, we don’t get smart with our opinions starting on the eighth day.  We sit in the ashes with our grieving friend.  That is love and sacrifice, my dear children.

Remember how Christ said to turn the other cheek, to give the man who asks for a coat your cloak as well, to walk the extra mile?  Love does not involve what you can get away with doing.  We are to love unto sacrifice.  We are to enter into hurt ourselves on behalf of another.

That means that we listen to one another even when they irritate us horribly.  That means that we shut our mouths when someone wants to share their pain with us.  That means that we put our rear in gear and get off our duff, roll up our sleeves, and help someone out.  That means that we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.  We move beyond our own comfort, our own self-satisfied opinions,and our own hurts to move out into the world of hurt and pain and sorrow and misery propelled by our Savior’s love and sacrifice for us, taking His healing balm into the world that knows original and actual sin and nothing but natural remedies, not a one of which avails.

We imitate Christ when we interpose ourselves between pain, sin, and disorder and our beloved brother.  On our wedding day, a family friend found me and kept kidding around with jokes until my brother and I walked out to the altar.  Stupid silly jokes kept me from getting anxious before the service on our big day.  That is interposing between disorder and our brother.

We imitate Christ when we pick up the burden our brother must carry.  St. Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear the Cross of our Lord on His way to Calvary.  A well-known example in the church of doing this is when the ladies of the parish provide plenty of food for a grieving family.  We ate chicken casseroles and ham for a month after my father died.  Our grief was so profound that feeding ourselves was difficult.  The ladies of our church fed us during that time.  God bless them for it.  This too is interposing between death and our brother.

We imitate Christ when we pay what our brother must pay.  The Good Samaritan paid the room and board and medical costs of the wounded Jew.  Mrs. Day of Day’s Inn paid for the Mercer University education of one of my friends who lost her father fleeing from the Communists in Cambodia and arrived in America with nothing.  Mrs. Day had a fortune.  My friend had no money.  But thanks to Mrs. Day, she received a very nice private college education, became wealthy, and now helps spread that wealth to those who have very little themselves.  God bless both of them for it.  This also is interposing between poverty and our brother.

In his Epistle to the Galatians, vi.2, St. Paul writes:  “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”  We are not Christians if we do not bear one another’s burdens.  We are not followers of Christ if we do not walk the Way of the Cross.  We are not participating in Christ’s ministry if we do not interpose between sin, death, and wickedness and our brother.  Christ tells us in the Summary of the Law to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  This is how we spread the Good News of Christ.  This is how we serve to forward the Kingdom of God.  This is how we imitate God.  This is how we imitate Christ.

This holy season of Lent, each of you search yourself.  Examine your thoughts, your heart, and your actions.  Do you love your neighbor in your thoughts?  Do you sacrifice for your brother in your heart?  Do you interpose on behalf of your brother in your actions?  If you are like the rest of us, and you are, then you are failing to love like Christ somewhere in your life.

In prayer and fasting, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, find that place that needs changing.  Resolve to change that.  Say it out loud to yourself, write it down someplace where you will see it every day.  Change this.  God the Holy Ghost will ably assist you in conforming to Christ and doing God the Father’s holy will on earth.

 

“BE ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

“…when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Because we are sons”

 

Regarding the readings or lections for Christmas Day and the Sunday after Christmas, Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:

“On the one day, the Son of God is shewn to us becoming the Son of Man: on the other, the sons of men are shewn to us becoming the sons of God, through the Adoption won for them by the Holy Child Jesus.  We are “heirs of God through Christ,” because of the fulfilment of the promise conveyed by His Name, “He shall save His people from their sins.”

Our adoption as sons of God happens because of Christ.  Christ is God the Son Who has taken on Flesh and is born of a woman.  Because of Christ’s Incarnation, we can have the Spirit of God in our hearts and call God the Father, Abba, or father.

 

So let’s look at today’s lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the fourth chapter, beginning with verses 1-3:

“1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:”

Before Christ came into the world, there were pretty much only two sorts of people.  There were the chosen people of God, the Jews, and there were those who did not worship the one true God, the pagans.  St. Paul describes both of them as being held “in bondage under the elements of the world.”

God treated the Jews as his chosen race, but he treated them mostly like quarrelsome children.  Think of how God punished David for his adultery or how God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.  In the previous chapter here in Galatians, St. Paul writes of how the Law of Moses was like a tutor teaching the children of Israel.

But God considered the pagans far more harshly, as they followed not God but the seasons and the stars and all manner of fables they told themselves to make sense of a harsh and unforgiving world.  They grasped at foolishness in order to gain some knowledge of natural religion.

Thus all of humanity had the potential to become the sons of God, but this was a latent and untouched potential, for humanity had not reached the point where Christ’s presence and teaching would be most effective.

St. Paul continues with verses 4-5:

“4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

God the Father sent forth the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, down to earth to be born of a woman.  God the Son pre-existed Jesus Christ, Who is God the Son Incarnate among us.  God the Son had no beginning and no end, and in the words of the Nicene Creed, is “eternally begotten” of the Father.

“The fulness of the time” is an awesome phrase.  Why was the year of Christ’s birth so “meet and right” for His Incarnation?  Fr. Melville Scott says it better than I do:

“Christ’s coming took place … at the time most suitable, when the world had learned that it was hopeless to think of improving the human race by means of any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.’”

And so the time was right for the Blessed Virgin Mary to give birth to the Christ.  And in His Circumcision and Presentation at the Temple, Christ was clearly born under the Law, so that He might “redeem them that were under the law.”

The last two verses of today’s epistle are verses 6-7:

“6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Because we are sons of God through Christ, Christ does two things.  First He delivers us from evil, and then He supplies us with good.  The evil is the curse of the Law, from which Christ delivers us.  St. Paul spills a lot of ink on this one.  We are no longer condemned for our sins because Christ has come into the world as one of us, suffered and died for us, and rose again from the dead, defeating death and sin and Hell forever.

The good He does is gain us our “promotion to sonship”, and so God the Father fills our hearts with the Spirit of his Son.  With the shared sonship of the Father, the brotherhood of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, we who have faith in Christ and been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism receive abundant new life and participate in communion with God.  Through that vital connection to the creator of the universe, we may realize and act upon our adopted sonship.  At the Last Day, our souls shall rejoin our bodies, and we shall enter into Resurrection and perfect communion with the Triune God for all eternity.  But even now we have access to the promises of God in our lives, in our world.

 

Because the Son of God was made flesh, we receive the adoption of sons.  By the adoption of sons, we enjoy communion with the Father.  Because we are sons, we have the Spirit of the Son in our hearts.

Christ taking on human flesh at the Annunciation – a holy day of obligation coming up in March, by the way – by His taking on our flesh from the Blessed Mother, St. Mary, we are ultimately saved from sin and promoted to the first-rank of creation.  We enjoy blessed sweet communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Nobody on earth can look at you like you’re nothing, for you are the blessed sons of God.

There are many ways one gets adopted nowadays.  One of those ways is when orphans in foreign countries, orphans living in hideous squalor, without family, without health care, without prospects for a long useful happy life, when those orphans get adopted by American or Australian or what have you couples, then they are brought into a safe and prosperous country and given – given is the word, mind you, for these are children without power or authority of their own – and given sonship or daughtership.  Such a child is instantly given safety, clothes, a warm bed, loving parents, good medical care, schooling, and citizenship.  If the child is handicapped, then even more is given to the child, for now the child’s disability is less crippling due to a more accepting society, laws guaranteeing access to public places, and healthcare which makes adjustments or corrections allowing for a more dignified and able life.

But there’s more.  The child also becomes an heir of the family.  Adopted children are not accorded lesser rights than natural-born children.  They are accorded the exact same rights as children born into the family, but they are given them graciously.  If the impoverished child is adopted into a rich family, that child will be heir to great wealth.

All of humanity suffers under the constraints of sin, disease, death, suffering, toil and all the consequences of our fall into sin.  Each of us suffers so.  On this earth in this life, we might think that some suffer more and some suffer less, but if we are to go to Hell, then we will all suffer horribly forever.  Unless.  Unless God were to come into the world and take on human flesh from a human mother, forever sanctifying the race which fell from God’s favor.  If only a woman would perfectly obey where the first woman disobeyed.  Then we might have salvation.

And we do thus have salvation through Christ!  For He truly became flesh inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and united God and Man forever in His precious Body.  Think on that when you kneel for the Holy Communion today.  God and Man together made one Person in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who gave His precious Body and Blood to feed you, to eat and drink in your mouth, to take into your body so that you, body and soul, may be taken up into eternal communion with God the Father, so that you may become a vessel and tabernacle of the Holy Ghost, so that you may become the adopted brothers of the Son of God and eternal sons of the eternal God.

We hardly ever think on this.  But we should.  We should think on it every single day of our lives.  And I’ll tell you what:  You ought to be reminded of this every single day of your lives.  For each of us, if we are to claim the name of Christian, are to pray the Lord’s Prayer every single day of our lives unless in a coma until the day we die.

And it starts off, “Our Father….”

We think that this is a simple and decent prayer and certainly one that other religions should be able to say with us.  But they can’t!  And why not?

Atheists acknowledge no God.  Jews dare not call our God father.  Moslems think of themselves as slaves of God, not sons.  Hindus and Buddhists and Shinto folk do not conceive of God like we do.

Only Christians dare to call Almighty God their father!  Isn’t that a kick in the pants?  We sit around thinking, “Well, we’re saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Communion will finally be here and then we sing and then we eat.”

Instead, we ought to stop and savor the word:  Father.

 

I want to leave you with two big thoughts of how our adoption as sons of God permanently changes our lives.

The first thought is this:  If we are truly adopted sons of the Most High God, the creator of Heaven and earth, then we are not merely passing through this world.  God created this earth we stand on.  And this is the day which the Lord has made.  If we are the sons of God, then we are no longer renters with no attachment or investment in the things God has made and loved, but we are heirs and thereby owners of these things as well.  Everything we let slide here we will have to answer for.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll have to fix it ourselves.

The last thought is this:  If we who believe in Christ, are washed in Holy Baptism, and commune with Christ in His Body and Blood are sons of God and tabernacles of the Holy Ghost, then we are all brothers and sisters.  If we are joint-heirs with Christ of eternal life, then we will be more than neighbors for all of eternity:  We will be related.  Do we act like family?  Do we love each other through thick and thin?  Do we accord each other mutual respect?  Or do we take advantage of each other?  Worse yet, do we ignore each other?  Do we gossip, slander, or insult each other?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we will have to own up to each ill-considered and hateful word we’ve ever said about each other either in Heaven or before we get there.

 

“…when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

“Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

One hundred sixty nine years ago, something strange happened.  A former Army captain who had spent many years studying the Scriptures by his lonesome supposed that he had figured out the year of Christ’s return.  He spent five years checking his interpretation and math.

Immediately upon publishing his news near and far, many flocked to him to hear how he had done it.  Amazingly, the year predicted was only a few years away.  Many of those flocking around him started figuring out the numbers for themselves, and one prediction became quite prominent:  The Lord Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.  March 21, 1844 rolled around and the Lord had not returned.  Again, heads were put together and figures were added with a new date, April 18th, not March 21st.  April 18th rolled around, and still our Lord had not returned.

The followers of the man were puzzled.  Then a new man arose at a camp meeting and claimed that he knew when Christ really really was coming back:  October 22nd, 1844.  October 22nd rolled around with the predictable results.  I suppose the third time was the charm, because this time the man Miller’s followers were devastated in what became known as The Great Disappointment.  One wrote:  “Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before… We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.”

Most of Miller’s followers, called Millerites, drifted away from the man and the movement.  But some clung tenaciously on.

Captain Miller was a false prophet.  He and his other leaders claimed to bring to the faithful the coming of Christ, but they did not.  Denominations have arisen from Miller’s disciples, and they are still soft on Christ’s Second Coming.

Most everybody has some bad apples in their church family tree.  Our own Henry VIII separated the Church of England from the Church of Rome in order to get a divorce – a bad reason – as well as some better reasons.  Certainly the Churches of Rome and the East have had atrocious bishops before.  But these three Churches are essential apostolic and catholic in nature.  Miller’s descendants, the Seventh-Day Adventists, struggle to lead people into the proper worship of Christ partially because of distortions in their understanding of the Second Coming of Christ.

We are not to be swayed by false teachers who come to us with signs and wonders.  Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles (viii.9) showed false signs to people which they were not to believe.

St. Paul tells us in Galatians i.8:  “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”  Think of that:  Even if an angel comes with new doctrine, we ought to hold fast to those things found in Scripture and taught in the Church.  Some will be tested and led astray by false teachers; “they shall deceive the very elect”.  We ought to firmly hold on to the apostle’s teaching and preaching and shun strange doctrines.

We simply do not know when Christ will return.  Those who claim to know are trying to disturb Christ’s faithful, and this is the act of antichrist and false prophets.  They will be seductive, showing signs and wonders.  They will be destructive, deceiving the very elect.  Resist them as you would the devil himself.  Live each day as if it is your last.  One day, either death will come for you or Christ will return “with power and great glory”.  At that time, the faithful in Christ will be gathered by His holy angels.

But just because false prophets claim to know when Christ will return does not mean that we should commit the opposite error of thinking that Christ is not coming.  Right here in today’s Gospel, Christ tells us that He is.  So first, we must not follow false teachers and get disturbed by claims that Christ is coming on a particular date.  And second, we must not follow doubters and get disturbed into thinking that Christ will not return.  He will return, and we do not know when.

 

Angela and I have seen heat lightning on our long commute on I-20 many a time.  But the first time I recall ever truly paying attention to it was years ago.  I was in a field in central Florida on a warm night in the middle of summer.  The lightning started up and I had to turn my head to catch it as it raced from one side of the sky across to the other.  I was amazed.  So much light arcing across without a storm dazzled me.

But I have also sat through some powerful storms out in Greene County, when the whole sky erupts from darkness and lights up.  You could almost feel the electricity in the air.

I wonder what it will look like when He comes again.  Christ says in today’s Gospel:  “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

Regardless of what kind of lightning Christ’s return will be like, His return will be visible to all and universal to all.  Like lightning, the burst of Christ before the world shall make bright all the dark places.  Lies will be exposed, hidden places made open, and darkness made light.

We do not have to wonder when Christ will return.  When He returns, we will notice.

 

What will happen when He returns?  “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

“His angels” and “His elect” refer to the angels of Heaven and the saved of Earth, the two sets of folks who will live with Christ forever.  Christ’s coming again will unite together all those who are already mystically united in Christ.  The time of trial and tribulation will be over.  Then will we reap the reward.  We have the promise now.  We will have the fullness of the actuality of it then.  Between now and then is a time of hope, and we have God’s promise that this hope will be fulfilled.

We ought to believe that as Christ came a first time, He will come again.  As He saved us with His first advent, so will He fulfill our salvation with His second advent.  But we aren’t to be wrapped up in speculating what that will be like, for if we spend our time doing that, we find ourselves in two traps.  First, the more we speculate, the easier we are for others to convince us, or for ourselves to convince us, that these speculations are instead fact.  That was Miller’s problem.  Second, the more we speculate, the less we pay attention to living our lives after the example of Christ.

George Buttrick wrote, “The crucial task for the disciples, as all the Gospels emphasize, is to seek the dignity and honor of the Messiah in the circumstances of humiliation and apparent defeat.”  We should not be so distracted by His coming in glory that we lose focus on the Christ Who has already come and Who has been with us and showing us the way.  We must prepare for His judgement by living in His humiliation and Resurrection.  For in Christ’s weakness, does He conquer, in His brokenness, does He redeem, and by His stripes, we are healed.

Thus, the major motif of all this is preparation.  We do not know when Christ will come again, only that He will come again.  We had best be prepared when He gets here.  (Of course, we might die before He arrives again, and thus we had best be prepared for our death.)

We live in expectation.  We live in hope:  Hope for Christ’s return.  Christ has saved us, and He will return shortly to gather us up to be with Him forever.

So let us live in hope.  Let us prepare to meet our God.  Let us never give in to despair or think that we are alone – we should let our hope increase our faith and loving-kindness.  We are never to give up but with hard work prepare ourselves, with God’s help, to meet Christ when He returns.

 

“Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

This parable of Christ’s shows a tension in God’s progressive revelation to us.  What do I mean by progressive revelation?  Consider the Holy Scriptures.  God reveals himself to Abraham as an individual man and through his family, then more fully to Moses and the nation of Israel through the Law, and then more fully to Israel and other nations through the Prophets of old.  Then, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son” into the world to be born by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary and made man.  God became one of us in Jesus of Galilee, and He changed our relationship with God.

St. Paul speaks of this in the fourth chapter of Galatians (iv.1-7):  “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.  Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:  But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

My dear children, we who believe in Christ and have been baptized into His Death and Resurrection are the adopted sons of God the Father and the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ our Lord.  By the very nature of God and how he has related himself to us, we are in, or have been called to be in, a personal relationship to the High King of Heaven.  Look around you and take care to see the invisible and supernatural crowns upon the heads of the others in here.  It is no lie that the saints are portrayed in art with halos around their heads.

And as adopted sons of God the Father, we can learn several things that peal like bells throughout Scripture.  First, God is a person, or rather, Three Persons.  We cannot have a relationship to God which is not a personal relationship.  Second, we are wanted.  As adopted sons of God, we should know in our very heart of hearts that God wants us.  God chose us.  God chose you, and God chose me.  We are valuable, we are wanted.  Third, since God chose or elected us to be in a personal relationship with him, then we cannot make our way to God under our own power or by our own will.  We are called out of this mess we are in, we are summoned forth from this existence of sin and sorrow and death and decay, and we are elected into holy relationship with God.  We absolutely and in no way can earn this.  Not even if we do everything that we ought to do and even if we avoid everything we ought to avoid.  In no way can we behave or act in any way good enough for us to deserve God’s love.  We do not deserve and cannot deserve life everlasting in the presence of God.

So:  First, God is personal.  Second, you are wanted.  Third:  You cannot deserve him.

Let’s go back to the parable Christ speaks in the eighteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.

The Pharisee “went up into the temple to pray.”  And what does he do?  He “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”

He thanks God all right; he thanks God that he is not like lesser men, sinful men, men who commit awful sins, who are unjust, who do not fast like they ought, and who do not give of their wealth as they ought.  Most notably, the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the other man there praying, the publican.

At this point, a lot of us suffer the temptation to say “thank God that I am not like that Pharisee!”  Boy howdy, look at him, proud as a peacock, trusting in himself, and thinking he’s so superior to that other man, the man who actually gets it right!  But before we think that we are not like that Pharisee, let’s consider it a bit.

The man makes two related moves.  First, he thanks God that he is not like other men are.  We all have choices to make in our lives.  The men he’s referring to are those who commit adultery, they cheat on their wives.  I think to myself, “Am I such a man?  Why no, I am not.”  But Christ says, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Christ has fulfilled the Law; Christ has gone deep into the human heart; Christ tells us that to make that little evil act of will quietly inside of us is to break the commandment.  To be wicked in a tiny little thing that you don’t share with anybody else is to break off your relationship with God the Father in Heaven above and throw yourself at the feet of Satan and his demons.

The Pharisee does not get this.  He doesn’t care if his heart is right; he is not on the lookout for his interior spiritual life.  He actually cares about his relationship with God, but he thinks that he can maintain that relationship by following God’s Law; by dotting every I and crossing every T.  But the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ tells us that this is not so.

St. Paul says of this in Second Corinthians iii.2-4:  “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.  And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:  Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

The Pharisee trusts in himself instead of in God.  He has read God’s Law and seeks to obey it.  He leads an upright life.  He tithes.  He fasts.  He goes to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee is a man of very high personal integrity.  He is no hypocrite.  He is no slacker.  As such, I am in no position to point at him and thank God that I am not like him.  In reading God’s word and seeking to do God’s will, that Pharisee of this parable is a far better man than I am.  He comports himself far better than most folks do, for he genuinely seeks the will of God and to do his holy will.  Yet he is profoundly wrong about how he goes about it.

Second, the Pharisee says that he is not like the publican standing near him.  In comparing himself to another, the Pharisee has made a mistake almost all of us make at one time or another:  He has compared his spiritual state to another’s in a favorable light.

I ask of you all:  Who among you can see into another man’s heart?  Who here knows how another considers God’s counsel upon her bed?  Which of us can possibly know the details necessary to judge another correctly, much less possess the wisdom to do so?  The obvious answer of course is that none of us can.

We do sometimes notice others who possess a grace, demonstrate magnanimous loving-kindness, show a tenderness of heart that we lack.  We see good examples of Christian love and conduct among us here and out in our lives, examples we would seek to emulate.  We read in II Kings ii.9:  “And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”

The problem is not that we recognize both the good and the wicked, but that our selves are so utterly and completely compromised to seek our own good over the good of others that we in no way may trust ourselves when we think that we can objectively trust our judgement that we are superior to another.  The Pharisee is a man of uprightness and integrity, but he frankly and simply does not know himself well enough to suspect that his heart might lie to him.  Our hearts lie to us all the time!  This is why Christ tells us that we can sin in our heart.  This is why St. Paul says that we can show forth God on “the fleshly tables of the heart” with the “Spirit of the living God”.  We cannot do it without God’s Holy Spirit.  Learn, my dear children, from the Pharisee and see that we cannot trust in ourselves.

In the parable, Christ shows us “a more excellent way”:  The publican.  What does the publican do?  “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”

He stands afar off.  He does go to the temple to pray, but he does not go to the best, most prominent place to pray.  Jewish men prayed at the temple, so that is what he does, but he is not haughty about it.

He does not lift his eyes unto heaven.  He does not think that he has done right by God – because truly he has not – and therefore does not think him the equal of God.

He smotes upon his breast.  In other words, he beats his chest.  He is a penitent sinner, and he hits himself over his heart.

He says, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  The publican truly knows himself, what he has done, who his redeemer is, and that he must ask for mercy.  And so simply and plainly, with the fewest words possible, he humbly makes his supplication to God.  This prayer, along with the invocation of Christ, forms what our Orthodox brethren call the Jesus Prayer:  “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”

At the very end of the parable, after the two have had their talk with God, we read, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Think on this:  “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”  The world as we know it is upside-down.  Well, perhaps not the world.  Even convicted felons know that murder and stealing are wrong.  This is why so many people who are firmly committed to doing wrong – stealing, lying, sleeping around – are most alert for people judging them.  No, the world is not so much upside down as we – you and me – are upside down.  When it comes to our poor selves, we get tangled and confused and consistently substitute our sinful desires for the general good or the good of others.  When a young man seduces a young woman, he is putting his own desires over her well-being.  When a woman steals from her employer, she is putting her own desires over the good of the company.  When a boy lies to his parents, he is putting his own desire over the truth and the common good.

Destruction follows seducing, stealing, and lying to our neighbors or loved ones.  When each one of us sins, we bring something unholy into God’s good Creation, we rend people apart from one another, and we obstruct the flow of God’s free unmerited favor.  We hurt others, and we hurt ourselves, regardless of our intentions.  This is why Christ says at the end of the parable that “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”  Justification is rightness before God; his accounting us just or righteous.  Justification and righteousness are translated similarly.  Despite his integrity, good works, and pious intent, the Pharisee did not go “down to his house justified”.  Despite his sins, the publican did go “down to his house justified”.  The difference is that the one deceived himself and trusted in himself rather than God and that the other knew the truth of himself as a sore sinner and threw himself upon God for mercy.

My good and faithful children, beware of the lies your hearts tell yourselves.  Beware of favorably comparing yourselves to others.  Beware of the deluding voice of your hearts when they tell you that by doing the right things you have thereby pleased God.  God is not mocked; God is not deceived.  He sees into your hearts and knows each of your secret desires.

I ask each of you to do the following this week:  First, remember that you are somehow deluding yourself.  Second, stop yourself several times this week and consider how Christ might view your reasons for what you are doing or saying right then.  Are they wholesome?  Are you deceiving yourself?  Last, when you catch yourself in some slippery self-justification, come clean to God.  He loves you and loves to hear the truth out of your mouth.

 

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Read Full Post »